Ed Carpenter once again on front row for Indy 500

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It’s a habit – a good one at that – that Ed Carpenter can’t and doesn’t want to break.

The veteran driver qualified second for next Sunday’s 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, marking the fourth time in the last five years either he or one of his Ed Carpenter Racing teammates (Carpenter won 2013 and 2014 poles, Josef Newgarden started second last year) that he’s started the Greatest Spectacle In Racing from the front row.

Carpenter will start in the middle of the front row alongside pole winner Scott Dixon on the inside and defending Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi on the outside, with a speed of 231.664 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

“Being in the middle in the fifth row is a lot harder than being in the middle of the front row,” Carpenter said. “There will be a hole for me in there, whether I get the holeshot or am able to fall in behind Scott or whoever.

“This will be my 14th one of these. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t choreograph what you’re going to do on the start of this race. It goes different every single time, so just take it as it comes.”

Carpenter was the fastest qualifier during Saturday’s qualifying, was actually one mph faster today than yesterday, but as he said, “It wasn’t fast enough.”

“I heard the crowd first and knew it was going to be a big number,” Carpenter said of his run Sunday to ABC. “It was kind of like yesterday. I thought if you told me we were going to average what I did, I would have thought that probably would have been the pole. … I wasn’t sure we were going to be beat.”

But Dixon went out and earned his third career pole for the 500 and Carpenter was relegated to a second-place starting spot.

“I’m happy for the team,” he said. “We’ve got a car on the front row and a car on the second row (J.R. Hildebrand will start sixth).

“Fuzzy’s Vodka keeps providing for us, the team keeps providing for me. It’s nice to have a Chevy on the front row, but when I saw Dixon’s car, I knew it would be hard to beat.”

Now, Carpenter goes through Monday’s practice as he and his team continue to work for what they hope will be his first Indy 500 title.

“Tomorrow is always an important day to put the race car to bed and put it away feeling like you have it just where you want to be, but I’m content,” he said. “I’ve been happier and more confident with my race car, but tomorrow is an important day.”

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”